Choosing a good travel guide might be trickier than you think. Stuart McMillan looks at why the For Less Guides are among the best on the market.
Going away for a while? Good. Need help? No, not with the trip, with picking a guide. Gone are the days of Native Indians helping explorers through treacherous river crossings (or is that just The Oregon Trail?) and hired locals giving help and guidance to the wealthy tourists of the 18th and 19th Centuries. Travel guides are the way to go for the discerning traveller in the modern world.
But even this can be a bit of a problem. What do you go for? Lonely Planet? Rough Guides? Johnny Explorer’s Guide to the 50 Greatest Pubs of Europe? And will it do what you want it to do? Will it give you all of those art galleries, but neglect to tell you that you decided to come on an obscure national holiday so they’ll all be closed? Will it tell you that you must visit this or that building for its rich cultural heritage and erstwhile importance and you get there only to find that it was knocked down 18 months ago? It’s a tricky one.
Personally, I’m a sucker for getting there and having a good walk around (partly because it means I don’t have to spend ages poring over guidebooks, which is generally done instead by my mother or my friends, depending on who I’m traveling with), but in the 21st Century one of the fastest growing markets in the world is becoming the go-to place for planning to see the sights on those far off destinations: travel apps. Travel apps have sprung up everywhere and, as with everything in the light-touch world of the digital superhighway, not all of them are good. The concept for someone lazy like me, though, is enticing: everything you need to know, usually about one place at a time if they’re any good, all in one place. Simple and easy to use.
But then a whole other host of problems crop up: is it from a reliable source? Will I be able to access it abroad? Is the information on the place so concise that I could have written it without even having been there? Furthermore, in the world of Travel apps, though we’re happy to throw a tenner at a guidebook, it’s becoming one of the strange quirks of the modern psyche that any app over 99p that isn’t a multi-level platform or sport game isn’t worth buying anyway.
I’ll admit, in my research I found very little to suggest that Travel apps will break through to take the place of the coveted guidebooks. Of the free apps, of which there weren’t many, they seemed to simply show monuments in places around the world with a bit of Google Maps and Wikipedia tacked on or be, well, just maps. The ones that you had to pay for were expectedly better, but none seemed to have a great interface, and some weren’t quite sure what they were doing. An interesting but flawed-looking concept was an app in which you input your budget and it gave you a suitable destination, though that kind of thing struck me as more of a souped-up teletext than a Travel app.
The best that I found seemed to be the For Less Guides, which were free and, arguably crucially, were the only apps which said that everything still worked offline. After downloading them I found that they housed a collection of monuments and street maps with opening times and recommendations, and the design was pretty much a basic ‘map with points of interest’ interface which didn’t seem to try to do anything too clever, but which had all of the necessary information when you clicked on one of the pins on the map.
Another point of interest were the in-app discounts to several restaurants, cafes, and events in the respective countries; something I managed to find nowhere else. It was nice to find an app that seemed to be trying to branch out and do something useful for the customer, rather than just offer travel guidance. The ‘For Less’ badge obviously displays the app’s raison-d’être, and it struck me as a pertinent question as to why other apps hadn’t gone down this road anyway (some had been designed for budgets, but none really to try and aid the traveller in specific cities.)
Though they’re currently only available for San Francisco, Amsterdam, London and New York, I’d rather that done well than the whole ‘350,000 monuments in 47 destinations’ idea, which just seems to bloat something that needs to fit potentially on a tablet screen but more probably on the screen of a smartphone. After all, you’d never expect to see the Lonely Planet Guide to The World. It wouldn’t fit in your bag very easily, anyway.
Going away is difficult enough, but the For Less Guides seemed to be the cleanest, easiest, most efficient methods of seeing everything and getting to know everything to see, if ever you were in any of the locations they offer, of course. The company says that their guides are ‘the only offline city travel guide apps’, which are obviously a great help for us poor students trying to avoid data roaming charges, and their discounts were a novel idea. In the 21st Century, when even a guidebook might be one too many things to take with you, apps might just make it as the future of travel planning. So, where do you fancy going?
Image Credits: www.forlessguides.com